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DJ Kenny Carpenter
on disco, NYC
and music

From his early gigs at the famous club of disco Studio 54 to his sets at the world’s most fashionable dance venues, DJ Kenny Carpenter has always sought to create a strong connection with his audience, as Julian Milnes discovers

Bronx-born and Brooklyn-raised Kenny Carpenter started spinning records in small venues in the mid-70s as part of New York City’s underground club scene. He was scouted by one of the most famous clubs of disco, Studio 54, where he took up the Saturday night residency. “It was totally unexpected. I was just in the right place at the right time,” he recalls.

From these halcyon days in the early to mid-80s when he performed at the most renowned NYC clubs to achieving worldwide acclaim performing at the world’s most revered superclubs, veteran DJ Kenny has continued to move the clubbing crowd in his own inimitable style.

Tower Revue caught up with him ahead of his eagerly awaited return appearance on 29 December at the King’s Social House at Badrutt’s Palace Hotel.

What’s your earliest music memory?

When I was six years old and living in the projects in Brooklyn with my seven brothers I became obsessed with my mother’s record player. There was one song in particular that she had on a 45 disc called Raindrops by Dee Clark. I would play that song endlessly and cry every time I heard it because the lyrics were very sad.

Who has been your biggest musical influence?

That’s a big question! There have been so many people who have influenced me musically. DJ Walter Gibbons was one of the first because he hired me as his light man at Galaxy 21 in 1975. But there was also Strafe, Larry Levan, Nicky Siano, David Mancuso, Tee Scott, Larry Patterson and DJ Flowers – I learned a lot from all of these DJs. Later in life my influences included DJs Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez and Tony Humphries, as well as record producer Shep Pettibone.

What’s your favourite clubbing era?

The best musical time for me was the 70s because it was before the digital revolution and musicians were still a critical part of creating dance music. The disco clubs were also amazing, but they couldn’t have survived without the music.

Studio 54 was, of course, the top club, but there was also Crisco Disco, Galaxy 21, Inferno, Fun House, Paradise Garage and Better Days. Those were some of my favourite places to go dancing. I’m a DJ and music producer by trade, but I’m a dancer first.

What’s your favourite floor-filler track?

Careless Whisper by George Michael – the Kenny Carpenter Rainbow Mix, naturally. But when I worked at Studio 54, Love Sensation by Loleatta Holloway was my anthem.

What key elements make a good club scene?

The party starts at the front door, so security should make people feel welcome. Also, the sound system is one of the most important things to me because without it I can’t speak. Then there’s the audience. Of course, it’s nice to think that people will feel your vibe but I always play for the people that I have and not the ones I wish I had. If you call yourself a DJ and entertainer then you should be able to adapt to any situation.

How do you read the crowd?

When I’m working I usually go out to the dance floor during the party. I want to feel what the people are feeling and not just from the console. If I’m playing a song and I see that people don’t like it I have no problem taking the tune off. I mix out of it so quickly you wouldn’t know what happened. I’m not looking to be a star. I’m sent to the club to deliver a message.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen during your music career?
The digital revolution. I could have never imagined anything like a PIN drive that could store two terabytes of music 30 years ago. This technology has changed my life for the better, because carrying vinyl can be hard on your back.

There’s also been a great evolution in sound design and the speakers have become more powerful than ever.

Having worked in such a famous club scene, what was your favourite Studio 54 moment?
My favourite moment was when we had a live performance by Tanya Gardner. Larry Levan had produced a smash hit for her called Heartbeat and the club decorated the venue to copy the theme of the song. The legal capacity of the club was 2,500, but we had 4,000 people that night. It was crazy because there was no space. People were hanging from the balconies.

And your most memorable celebrity moment?
Meeting Andy Warhol, Calvin Klein and Bianca Jagger, all on the same night.

What do you do if you get any downtime?
There’s actually not much downtime from music because I’m also a music producer. I spend lots of time in my home studio, but I also enjoy travelling and spending time with friends. I’m a great cook and I enjoy entertaining at home. I start everyday by walking five miles for my pastry and coffee. My friends think I’m crazy but it helps me stay in shape and contemplate my day, week, month and future. 

What are you most looking forward to when you play at the King’s Social House?
I was so impressed the first time I played at King’s Social House because it is like a mini Studio 54. There’s a great sound system, incredible lighting and a high-fashion audience who know their music. What more can I ask for?

Finally, what can we expect from your DJ set?
I studied and learned the audience from the previous two times I’ve played there, so I’ll be even more prepared to rock the place this time. You may not know it, but those are my people; they know me and my music. I never plan what I will do because I prefer to be spontaneous. That said, I will have a few special surprise remixes to play.

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